Ill-Gotten Goods

BY : Taa
Category: Avatar - The Last Airbender > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 10731
Disclaimer: This is an original fanfiction based on the series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The author reserves no rights to the Avatar property and makes no profit by this fiction.


Chapter One: The Replacement Prisoner


Well, this is ironic, Sokka thought as he was thrown into a prison cell. It was only days ago that he'd rescued his dad and Suki from a Fire Nation prison, and now he'd become a prisoner himself. He stumbled forward to his knees, hissing as the cut he'd gotten scraped against the dirt. He would have tried to catch himself, but his hands were cuffed behind his back. Instead, he dropped to his side to get the weight off his knee and lay there as Fire Nation soldiers slammed the barred door closed behind him. The sharp ring of metal sent a bolt up the back of his neck, and he cringed through it before looking back to glare at the soldiers as they locked his cell.

As soon as the men moved away, Sokka was back sitting up and scanning the ceiling for signs of Suki. Hopefully she was still aboveground. If she had any sense at all, she'd leave him behind, go back to the others, and move the group away from here before a search party could discover their camp site. There were too many soldiers down here for her to take on herself. If she wanted to rescue him, she would need reinforcements.

Thankfully, nothing indicated Suki had tried to follow him. The mouth of the tunnel he had fallen through was just an empty hole in the cavern wall, and the only people he saw roaming around were fully-armored Fire Nation soldiers. If Suki had dropped in after him, she would have caused another commotion, but since the atmosphere in the cave had returned to relative calm, he doubted she was inside. Good.

Sokka climbed to his feet, limping slightly from the gash in his knee. He'd torn it open by falling into the cavern, and now blood was soaking through his pant leg. He scowled and pressed his face grumpily against the bars. With Suki safe, he could try to analyze the situation.

He and Suki had been on a walk together when they came across a cave in the hillside. Sokka had stepped in to explore it and was surprised to smell brimstone in the air. He was even more surprised when the rock floor suddenly gave way beneath his feet and sent him tumbling through a jagged metal hole and into a crowd of Fire Nation soldiers fifteen feet below. Judging by the look of things, this cavern was some kind of makeshift military bunker. He could only now get a good look at it, since when he'd first arrived, he'd been too preoccupied trying to fend off a gang attack.

He was a little ashamed of the pathetic fight he'd put up, but with the shock of the fall, the gash in his leg, and the general bumping and bruising from his method of entry, he'd been understandably a bit uncoordinated. The soldiers had easily overpowered him and clapped him in chains. They'd also robbed him of his boomerang and sword.

Sokka angrily kicked a bar of his cell. Just then, a soldier barked a command at him.

"Stand back there!"

Sokka looked up just in time to see a whip of flame heading his way.

"Whoa!" he yelped, retreating to the back wall. The flames licked the bars of his cell, and when they cleared, an officer was standing there, leering in at him.

"You're one of the Avatar's friends," he said. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same question," Sokka retorted. "A bit far from home, aren't you?"

The officer ignored him. "Tell us where the others are and we'll spare your life."

"Yeah, right," Sokka said. He hesitated a moment. "I don't know where they are, anyway. I haven't seen them lately."

The officer looked unimpressed. "Come now. If one of you is hanging around, the rest can't be far behind."

"Yeah, you'd think so," Sokka countered skillfully, "but not this time. I got separated from them a while back. I've been looking for them, too; so if you find them, let me know." He tried to act nonchalant, to make his lie convincing.

"Hm," the officer said. He turned to a soldier at his side. "See if you can confirm his story. Take a few men and sweep the area. If you find anyone, send word back, and we'll mount an attack." The soldier nodded and went away.

"You're wasting your time," Sokka insisted. "Think about it. Why would any of us voluntarily wander off alone? If we did," he added with emphasis, "we might be captured by the Fire Nation." He slumped moodily back to the floor. "As you can see."

The officer snorted dismissively and left.

Sokka glanced around his cell, looking for any chinks or structural weaknesses he could exploit to escape. Unfortunately, on first glance, the place seemed airtight—not that that was surprising. So instead, he directed his attention to the soldiers milling around before him. He was looking for indications of hierarchy and routines, thinking his escape might have to rely on scheduled trickery rather than invisible sneakery. But as he watched, all he detected was a general air of undirected energy. The soldiers looked like they were just killing time. This puzzled him. Why would the Fire Nation be stationed in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do?

He hadn't come up with an explanation for that by the time the soldiers' search party returned. They'd found no one. Sokka breathed a sigh of relief, proudly satisfied with Suki. She must have warned the others and gotten them to safety, just as he'd hoped.

"All right, then," the officer spoke again, calling to the group. "Let's clear out!"

"What?" Sokka asked out loud. "We're leaving ?" Well, that would explain the lack of activity. But it would also complicate any potential rescue attempts.

A few minutes later, a pair of guards manhandled Sokka into the brig of an airship. The underground bunker had an outlet to a nearby cliff face, making the Fire Nation's departure quick and clean. As the ships sailed off, Sokka sat crouched in the darkness, desperately trying to wring his wrists out of his shackles. It was becoming quite apparent that if he was going to get out of this mess, he was going to have to do it alone.

A few hours later, Sokka was aching everywhere and getting depressed. The space he was being held in was actually nothing but a few-foot-deep recess under the airship sub-deck—dark, cramped, and cold—and he hadn't made any progress on his shackles. All he'd done was wear holes into his gloves by rubbing against the metal, and if he kept at it, he'd only be rubbing through his skin. He might have considered breaking his thumb to squeeze one hand through, except that meant he'd have to make the rest of his escape one-handed, and he wasn't quite that desperate yet. Dire as his situation was, he felt it was better to bide his time. Besides, this ship was probably a thousand feet in the air. It would be better to wait until they reached solid land again.

By the time the airship finally touched down, Sokka was miserably numb, having been unable to move much or find a comfortable position the whole time they'd been travelling. He was also exceptionally bitter. He promised himself that the next Fire Nation soldier he saw he would kick in the face.

He never got his opportunity, though, because when the guards came at last to retrieve him, he was immediately blinded by sunlight, and when they yanked him out onto the cargo ramp, he couldn't even stand. The guards had to haul him down to ground level as he struggled to make his tingling legs move again.

The first thing that happened on ground was he was made to change into a prisoner's tunic and trousers. All of his own clothing was confiscated; the only things he retained were his wolf tail and his pride. After that, he was led into a holding cell and left to mingle with a handful of other prisoners.

Being back with a group of people lifted his spirits a bit because escape plans, he knew, were more easily executed by teams. With this thought in mind, he stifled a grin as the Fire Nation soldiers locked the bars behind him. He wasn't exactly ready to discuss strategy yet—not that he could say much, anyway, in the presence of the guards—but he did make a point of chatting up a couple earthbenders in preparation. He found out from them that this was a Fire Nation military base stationed in the Earth Kingdom. These prisoners had been taken after the fall of Ba Sing Se, and Sokka was the only non-Earth Kingdom prisoner in the facility.

He was unable to learn much more, though, because not long after being dropped off, a pair of soldiers returned to retrieve him again.

"You. Water Tribe boy," one of them called. "You're coming with us."

The other soldier was showing a document to one of the guards. "Princess Azula commands that all members of the Avatar's party be brought to her chambers directly," he said.

Sokka's heart dropped. Azula commanded this base? That was an unsettling thought. He and the others had already spent too long on the wrong end of her attacks, but lately he'd been developing a personal hatred of her. He'd been a personal target of her manipulation once, and he was sick of her destroying his plans, sick of watching her hurt innocent people and laugh about it. Their past few encounters had brought their animosity to a head, and Sokka wondered if she might have a score to settle with him.

Then a chilling thought struck him: as a warrior, he'd face her any day—but as a prisoner ? That made his stomach turn. Being surrounded by Azula's guards, under her control, and unarmed and unable to fight suddenly seemed more than usually dangerous, especially considering how serious the war had gotten recently. He didn't this prospect.

He fought down the knot in his stomach as the guards forced him into a new pair of cuffs. He tried to keep a level head; despite his well-placed apprehension, he knew there was nothing he could do in this situation. He would just have to suck it up and not let Azula see even a flicker of weakness in him. He would get through this meeting and then turn his attention back to escaping.

The guards led him down to a windowless interrogation room in a basement wing. But instead of sitting him in a chair to wait for Azula, one guard grabbed him by the wrists and unlocked the handcuffs they'd just put him in. Sokka was taken aback, but he quickly realized what was going on: the guards planned to re-shackle him to another pair of handcuffs suspended mid-room at waist level from the ceiling.

His stomach dropped. Being handcuffed in Azula's presence was terrifying enough; being handcuffed in place was unthinkable. With a sharp feeling of dread, he made a sudden, opportunist change of plan and beat back the guard who'd just loosed his hands, making a mad, panicked dash for the door.

But he'd barely reached the threshold when the other guard tackled him, bringing them both crashing to the floor. Sokka fought back, twisting and punching the guard to break free, but the first guard had by now recovered himself and joined his comrade, landing a few punches on Sokka himself. But Sokka was pumped with adrenaline now and continued to fight. When he proved too unruly for the two guards to contain, two more guards were called in to help get him under control.

Each guard took one of his limbs, and Sokka shouted profanities at them as he was hefted into the air. With a little effort, they managed to get both his wrists restrained before him and locked securely in the irons. Soundly defeated, Sokka gave up and only half-heartedly attempted to wring himself free. Then the thing happened which Sokka had foreseen and been dreading most of all.

The guards worked a pulley on the wall which lifted his cuffs higher toward the ceiling until his arms were fully extended above him and he was only barely supporting his weight on the floor. Left in this horribly vulnerable position, he could do nothing but watch as the guards filed dutifully out of the room.

The slamming of the door dropped the room into silence until the only things Sokka could hear were the crackling torches on either side of the door and his own pulse, drumming in his throat. He took some deep breaths, trying to still his heart and chiding himself for making a sloppy escape attempt that was destined to fail. He had to calm himself down before Azula arrived; it wouldn't look good if he was still half panicked.

Thankfully, he was starting to get his head back by the time Her Majesty opened the door. He watched her out of the corner of his eye, unwilling even to dignify her entrance by turning his head. Azula seemed amused by this. She serenely returned his gaze as she made her way to a single chair at the head of the room.

Sokka ," she said, taking a seat and crossing her legs. "How nice to see you again." Sokka just glared from between his biceps. "You have impeccable timing, you know. My soldiers tell me they hadn't been in the cavern bunker more than twenty minutes before you dropped in." She couldn't quite contain the grin that crept out onto her lips. "Imagine. Had you happened by just five or ten minutes later, you and I wouldn't be chatting right now. Funny how fate works, isn't it?"

"What's with the cavern, anyway?" Sokka asked bluntly. "Getting scared and burying your head in the sand or what?"

"Ha. Hardly," Azula said. "I'm just collecting a few things I've left scattered here and there. Nothing much, really, but one never knows what may prove important later on." She brushed a stray bit of hair behind her ear, looking annoyed. "I find I have to be more careful with who I entrust things to these days. My ranks have recently become infested with traitors , and I wouldn't want my things falling into the wrong hands." She said this with a precisely directly scowl.

Sokka knew she was referring to the two girls who used to accompany her. He'd seen at the Boiling Rock how they'd turned against Azula, letting Sokka and Zuko escape with the freed prisoners. Clearly their betrayal still weighed heavy on her mind. But knowing how cool and collected Azula liked to appear, it troubled him somehow that she would so freely offer up that information to him now.

Azula rose and approached him. Sokka narrowed his eyes.

"Of course, I don't need to tell you about that," she went on. "You've already gotten a good deal out of my brother's treachery. That was some stunt you pulled at the Boiling Rock." She stopped just in front him, staring him down. "I know it was you who did the masterminding, of course, because Zuzu simply doesn't have the backbone or cunning to organize a break-out." She glanced him over derisively. "Impressive, actually, for a peasant who can't even bend." Then she smiled. "You must be so proud of yourself."

Sokka clenched his fists but said nothing.

Azula paused. "I suppose it was all for the benefit of that Kyoshi girl, hm? You just had to prove to yourself that you could play the hero like she'd hoped."

Sokka flushed uncomfortably. Actually, he'd only gone to the Boiling Rock to rescue his father, but now that he thought about it, why hadn'the tried to rescue Suki before that? Azula had even told him she was relying on Sokka to save her. He was suddenly stricken with guilt. What a jerk he was.

"Well," Azula went on, seeming a bit annoyed at Sokka's continued silence, "since you managed to get her , I suppose I'll just have to take you . It's not really a fair trade, mind you, since she was a skilled warrior and you're just a nobody, but I guess I'll have to make due. What do you think? Can you make up for her, Sokka?"

Oh, he hated when she said his name. Fed up, he lifted himself from the ground and kicked her away from him. Azula stumbled back, looking sincerely surprised. Apparently she wasn't used to prisoners fighting back.

"Why, you disrespectful leech!" she balked. She threw a fireball at him, striking him squarely in the chest so hard it was as if he'd been clubbed. He'd cried out in alarm, but as the ball struck, the wind was knocked out of him, pitching him forward in a stunned kind of pain. He coughed breathlessly and felt his heart skip a few beats. The force of the blow had caused more damage than the flames, but it was a blessing for which he was only partly grateful.

"I do not tolerate insolence," Azula hissed. "You are my captive now, and you will show me respect."

"Sorry," Sokka grunted, able to breathe again, "but my respect for the Fire Nation is running a little low lately."

"Is it? Then I'm sure I can restore some for you."

"Unlikely," he snorted.

"Oh, Sokka ," she cackled. "I'm surprised you would underestimate me. I was actually beginning to think you might have some brains in that low-born skull of yours. But I see now that I was mistaken." She sneeringly formed a fire dagger in her hand. "I have methods, you know. If there's one thing in this world I'm good at, it's earning respect."

She thrust the edge of the dagger up under Sokka's chin. He shrank back, pulling away from the heat. Azula's face was twisted in anger.

"You seem to forget," she growled at him, "that you're here to repay a debt to me." Sokka craned his neck nervously, taking in breath as Azula pressed the fire to his throat.

He hadn't realized that she was capable of exerting this much control over her firebending. The dagger felt as sharp and solid as a real blade, and even though it was searingly hot, it wasn't actually burning him. He turned his eyes forward and was met with a ferocious gaze.

"You robbed me of one or two particularly valuable prisoners," she said, "so unfortunately, you have a lot to make up for." She drew the knife down and pressed the tip into the pocket of his collarbone. Sokka held his breath, waiting. "But perhaps you don't quite understand the inconvenience of having things taken from you. Please, allow me to educate you."

She moved the dagger down, but rather than cutting him or plunging it into his neck, she carefully inserted it into his shirtfront and began burning a cut down the middle of his tunic.

Sokka blinked and pulled back suddenly, taken by surprise. What was she doing? He tried to get away, but Azula conjured a fireball in her free hand as a warning to cooperate. Sokka took the hint but couldn't stifle his dread as, bit by bit, the split down his shirt grew longer and wider. The singed edges of the fabric fell against his skin and stung him with the embers.

With the knife descending past his belly button, he felt himself break into a cold sweat. She was watching her work with a disturbingly minute fascination, studying each new inch of abdomen as it was revealed. Burning through the last few inches of tunic, she put her pinky against his stomach to steady her hand.

Sokka recoiled. "Stop," he said dumbly, but Azula had already retracted the dagger. She looked up at him smiling, bent so low that her face was level with his waist. He looked back down at her, his heart pounding faster. With a glint of mischief in her eye, Azula pushed herself up by her knees and lifted a hand to encourage the embers to bloom into flames. Sokka gasped, watching helplessly as the flames spread up his chest and licked around his sides until the entire tunic was engulfed.

He cried out, panic overtaking him. He had vowed not to lose his composure, but the irrepressible fear of being on fire overpowered his resolve. He flailed, trying to disentangle himself from the flames. The heat was intense, but Azula bent the fire away from his skin, preventing him from being burned. She continued like this, in calculated control, until the tunic literally disintegrated into ashes around him.

"What are you doing ?" Sokka demanded, panting in the aftermath. Sweat trickled down his chest and steamed off his skin, which had turned red in the sauna-like heat.

"Feeling more respectful now?" Azula sneered. She held out her palm and produced a new flame in it. Sokka braced as if to kick her again, but Azula calmly stepped out of reach.

"This will be easier if you hold still," she said, transferring her flame to the cuff of his pants.

Stubbornly, he stamped on his ankle as if he could put it out, but the flames spread anyway, helped by Azula. By the time the fire was up to his knees, he'd discovered she was right. The more he fought, the more he got burned. In order to save himself from serious injury, he had no choice but to stay put.

He stood up rigid, trying not to react, but the crackling blaze climbing up his lower half was incredibly difficult to ignore. He breathed deep, clenching his jaw and assuring himself he wasn't actually on fire, and tried not to wince every time a spark singed him or a patch of leg hair burned away.

Then, suddenly, his feet seared with pain, and for a moment, he lost his composure. The leather soles of his slippers had begun to sizzle, but the fabric that kept them bound to his feet still had yet to burn through. Frantically, he stumbled over himself, swinging by his wrists as he kicked the shoes from his feet. By the time he'd freed himself, Azula was chuckling quietly at his distress as the flames of his pants moved up to his waist. He panted, wide-eyed over his narrow escape, but the heat around his hips quickly reclaimed his attention.

The fire was moving between his legs, and he tensed because he knew now Azula wasn't going to stop. He shut his eyes and stood like stone, a kind of cold shooting through his gut even as the flames burned nearer. Bits of fabric were falling away from his legs, flames expanding the edges of ever-growing holes. Soon the center of heat was at his crotch. He waited, hissing now from shame and anxiety whenever an ember fell against his skin. Time seemed to stretch on forever, and each moment he felt more pathetic and stupidly afraid.

The flames were on top of him, terrifying in their nearness. He could feel their tongues flicking through the spaces around his groin. He shuddered and bit his lip to cut off a whimper. He was trembling.

When at last the shield of fabric opened and fell away, he pinched his eyes tighter and turned his head away. He was naked now, and he had never felt so pathetic and ashamed.

A few strands of fabric still smoldered at his hips, but Azula made short work of them. With a wave of her hand, any cloth that hadn't yet surrendered his body exploded into flame and dispersed into the air. Sokka swallowed as smoke drifted around him. He felt sick to his stomach.

He took a shaky breath and looked reluctantly at Azula. Steam curled up from his naked body, skin stinging and red. Azula was standing there grinning at him, and he couldn't even tolerate the sight of her. He closed his eyes again, turning his face to the floor and burning with embarrassment, wanting to block out the whole situation.

After a moment, Azula said innocently, "Oh. You're bleeding."

Sokka didn't know what she was talking about and didn't care to respond.

"I can fix that for you," she offered, and suddenly there was a screaming pain in his knee.

"Aagh!" he shouted, jerking alive in agony. He caught a confused glimpse of a blurry orange glow and realized in horror that his knee was on fire. Sokka thrashed and screamed to put it out, and Azula ended it with a flick of her wrist.

"There," she said. "Cauterized." Sokka gasped and coughed. "You're welcome," she added.

Tears leaked from his eyes as he looked at the wound on his knee. Azula had burned into his cut from the cavern, leaving his skin a pink, blistered mess. It throbbed with a deep and radiating pain. Stunned and shaking, he turned his eyes up to her.

Had she treated Suki like this when Suki was in prison? He hoped with all his heart not. The thought made him furious and not least of all nauseous. If he ever found out Azula had tortured Suki, he would rip out Azula's throat and never look back.

He scowled lividly, blinking through tears. Azula was standing with her arms folded, looking faintly pleased with herself. Her head was cocked slightly to the side. Sokka coughed and spat, and she took a single step back. He watched her for a moment as he caught his breath.

There was something different about her. The way she stood was somehow looser, the expression in her eyes just a shade distant. Sokka hadn't been able to put his finger on it until now, but in a flash he realized: this was crazy, even for her.

That meant, no, Azula hadn't treated Suki like this, because if she had, Suki would have told him. He didn't know whether Kyoshi pride would have made Suki want to keep any abuse to herself, but what he did know was that Suki would have reported a change like this in Azula, because it was too important to keep secret. Knowing this would have affected the way they strategized against her.

It was small comfort, knowing Suki had been safe. But this new Azula was another matter. Her behavior here had been excessive and unpredictable, beyond even simple military brutality. The way she talked, the way she looked—it seemed unstable, like she was coming unhinged.

Sokka stared at the floor, still reeling with pain and wondering how worried he should be.

After a while, Azula sighed. "Well, I guess that's enough for today. Excellent lesson. Class dismissed." She turned and calmly left the room, snuffing out the torches as she closed the door.

Sokka shuddered unhappily, wishing his pain would die down, and hung from his chain as he waited in the darkness.

End of chapter one.

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